SAG, AFTRA unions could soon join forces

Amy Scott Jan 17, 2012

Adriene Hill: Now to Hollywood, which may be getting a new union. No, not another Kardashian wedding — or a new Brangalina-style power couple. Instead, one that could change the labor landscape for the industry. After years of courting, the two main actors’ unions have worked out a deal to tie the knot.

Marketplace’s Amy Scott joins us now live to help explain. Good morning Amy.

Amy Scott: Good morning.

Hill: So first tell us about these unions. Why would they want to merge?

Scott: SAG — the Screen Actors Guild — historically represented film actors. The other union is the American Federation of Television and Radio artists. But of course there’s a lot of overlap in the industry. The two unions share more than 40,000 members.

I spoke earlier with Dan Mitchell, a professor emeritus at UCLA. He says it makes sense to join forces.

Dan Mitchell: What unions are ultimately for is negotiating better deals for their members. And if you have different unions with different demands and competing with each other, they’re less effective at negotiating with the employers.

A few years ago, for example, AFTRA pulled out of a partnership with SAG and ended up cutting its own deal with TV producers, which was said to really hurt SAG’s clout.

Hill: But as I understand it, even before that partnership failed, they did try this merger thing before, right? So what’s different now?

Scott: Yeah, they’ve been talking about merging actually for decades. The last attempt about nine years ago was pretty narrowly defeated.

But after that ugly battle I mentioned from a few years ago, there’s been more support for joining forces. Everybody is trying to figure out how to make money in the age of digital media, and the thinking here is that performers need a powerful union to make sure they’re not left out.

Hill: Marketplace’s Amy Scott. Thanks so much.

Scott: You’re welcome.

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